How to calm a dog or cat during a storm
Thunderstorms and severe weather are common triggers of pet anxiety. But by taking proactive steps in pet preparedness, and by learning how to calm your dog or cat during a thunderstorm, you can help soothe their storm anxiety.
An approaching storm can turn even the most confident cats and dogs into a bundle of nerves. And since storms can appear suddenly and without warning, proper pet preparedness is of utmost importance — especially since thunderstorm season is a busy time of year for lost pets.
Here’s how you can soothe your cat or dog’s storm anxiety, and why proper pet preparedness is key to helping your best friend weather a storm.
How can I help my cat or dog’s anxiety before a storm?
Identify what triggers your pet’s storm anxiety
Understanding what specifically triggers your pet's anxiety will help you tailor your approach. For example, if the crack of thunder sends your pet into a frenzy, try turning on the TV or playing relaxing music.
Research suggests that dogs feel static electricity when a storm is approaching. If your dog’s anxiety flares up before the storm clouds roll in, try a ThunderShirt or calming wrap to help ground and soothe your canine. Also, consider downloading an advance warning weather app so that you can get ahead of your dog’s storm anxiety.
Desensitize your cat or dog
Gradually introduce storm sounds to your pet, starting at a low volume and increasing it over time. Pair this behavioral therapy with your pet’s favorite treat to help create a positive association.
Desensitization can help reduce your pet’s fear response, and many audio clips exist online for this exact purpose — just remember to stay patient and take baby steps!
Prepare a pet emergency kit
Consider having a pet preparedness plan in place. It may not seem necessary today, but in the event of an emergency or disaster, having emergency pet supplies (including food, medications, contact information, etc.) already packed and ready can be a huge help.
Items you may want to include in your pet emergency kit:
- Contact information for a person who can care for your pet, plus a back-up
- Food and treats (for at least two weeks)
- Extra collar with ID tags (and remember to update your pet’s microchip information)
- Extra leash and harness
- Supply of clean water
- Toys, a bed and blanket
- A crate or carrier to transport your pet
- Cat litter and litter box
- Vaccination records and contact information for your veterinary clinic
- Medications and prescriptions with instructions
- Daily care instructions
Consult your veterinarian
In severe cases of pet anxiety, or if your pet suffers from astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning), consulting with your veterinarian may be necessary. Look for extreme cat and dog storm anxiety symptoms, such as hiding, pacing, panting, whining, destructive and aggressive behavior, or freezing with fear. In such cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medication or recommend alternative remedies.
How can I calm my cat or dog during a thunderstorm?
Stay cool, calm, and collected
Your pet often looks to you as both an example and a source of security. Remaining calm during a storm sends a reassuring signal to them that everything is all right. If you panic and start babying your pet at the first sound of thunder, your own anxiety may trigger theirs. It’s also important to never scold or punish your pet, as this may cause more harm than good.
Keep your pet inside and secured
While it’s important to practice pet safety in the home, it’s even more important during the winter and stormy months. Many pets run away during thunderstorms, so keep your pet safely indoors with current ID tags and updated microchip information. This not only helps reduce their exposure to storm-related triggers, but it also helps ensure their safety and can decrease their likelihood of getting lost.
It might sound excessive, but confirm all doors and windows are secured. Frightened dogs have, in some cases, shown remarkable strength by breaking through doors and windows in their efforts to escape.
Create a safe, pet-friendly environment
Designate a calm, secure area where your pet can seek refuge during a storm. For dogs, this could be a closet or crate — many naturally find comfort by hiding in the bathroom. For cats, a cozy enclosure or cardboard box is a great (and safe!) place to hide. You can further soothe your dog or cat’s thunderstorm anxiety with their favorite toys and blankets.
Limit exposure to external triggers
If your dog or cat fears thunder, turn on calming music or white noise to help drown out the sound of the storm. You can also shield your pet from flashes of lightning by closing all the curtains and blinds. After all, out of sight, out of mind!
Provide a distraction
Use pet enrichment and interactive toys to help distract your pet, and engage in gentle games that encourage movement and play. By keeping your pet mentally and physically engaged during a storm, you may be able to divert their attention away from the stormy weather outside.
A ThunderShirt or calming wrap can also serve as a welcome distraction. These wearable solutions offer a sense of security by providing gentle, constant pressure around your pet’s body.
How can I help my cat or dog’s anxiety after a storm?
Even after a storm has passed, it’s normal for your pet to still feel anxious. Continue providing comfort and reassurance to help them settle, and consider giving them a special treat as a reward for their resilience!
It takes time and patience when it comes to addressing a pet’s thunderstorm anxiety, so reflect on how your pet behaved during the storm. This can be valuable for understanding their specific triggers, and can also help you tailor your approach for the future. If your pet’s storm anxiety stays the same or worsens, consult your veterinarian.
In 2023, there was a record number of cats and dogs seeking veterinary care for behavioral issues like pet storm anxiety.footnote 1 But with the help of pet medical insurance, your dog or cat can get the support they need to help conquer their anxiety once and for all.